Disclaimer: Abruptly stopping the dosage of anti-depressant medications (SSRIs as they’re called by the pharmaceutical industry) is not recommended. Please consult with a doctor regarding the dosage of any such medication.
Several years ago I was suffering from what I now know to be hormonal migraines. I was prescribed Celexa, and took it for a little over nine months.
As it happened, I went on a weekend trip and forgot to take the bottle of Celexa with me. This was not a good thing. On the third day, I started feeling dizzy and slightly disoriented, as if my vision had been altered. It was as if my sense of space was out of alignment; I kept tripping over things.
I soon realized that I had effectively put the dreaded “cold turkey” into motion. When I tried to sleep the anxiety was intense – much worse, even, than the “old” anxiety I had been used to. I was woken up at night by an intense coldness – some people call it “brain zaps” or “electricity” – surging through my head. My dreams were intense – vivid colors, red and black, nightmares.
Luckily I was in the midst of a hypnosis training when this happened, and so I decided to use the techniques on myself as a test-case. Could hypnotherapy work to counter the unbelievably scary and disorienting withdrawal effects of this drug? After all, what was happening was primarily physiological – chemicals were unleashed in my blood that were causing these symptoms. But is it possible that my thinking process – the waves of fear augmented by powerlessness — was making they symptoms worse than they needed to be?
The answer is yes. Celexa and other “Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” essentially fire neural signals in your brain which supposedly allow serotonin to flow more plentifully. When, you decide to stop taking the pills, it’s literally as if you suddenly charged over to the windowsill, grabbed a firmly rooted plant (a fern perhaps, or a tomato plant) and yanked it out of the dirt where it had been growing. Where it had embedded itself into the soil. Imagine now violently shaking the roots to clean the dirt from them. And now imagine that they are alive (in the sense of conscious, and moving). They would be squirming like worms! Cowering from the sudden rush of cold air. Terrified to be exposed, because the soil was keeping them warm.
Now slow down this picture and imagine how you’re gently removing the plant from its pot. Picture the roots starting to squirm, and as you reassure them that everything is going to be ok, begin to feel a wave of relaxation. Because you know there is another pot – a bigger one – right there. Filled with lots of warm, nurturing dirt. Dirt that is filled with vitamins and other nutrients. Picture yourself clearing a large hole in the center of the new dirt. And take a breath as you place – gently – that uprooted plant into the center of it. And picture yourself very gently pressing the new dirt all around the roots. Assuring them that everything will be ok. That this is their new pot. And as you feel more and more relaxed knowing how soon every root will grip onto this new, nurturing soil and begin the process of growing. Little by little. Until the roots are once again warm, once again reaching out and growing – in this new, much stronger, much healthier pot.
And just like the roots of this plant your brain — even as this medicine is retracting from it — is growing new neural pathways on its own. And you can help them grow by imagining that they are expanding and that the root system they are creating is going to be so much stronger, so much better, than the one triggered by the medicine. And that surging through your veins – those awful zaps and zings — that’s the feeling of re-growth. New blood pushing aside the old. What you are experiencing is the pain of planting new roots; the electric charge that makes life possible.
I visualized this metaphor every day, and it really worked for me. But if you don’t have any plants and don’t like the image of roots, think of something else. You can think of an image from your own life. Ask and perhaps your subconscious will give you the image. How about a carburetor –how it works to deliver the correct amount of fuel slowly flowing the perfect mix of chemicals through the engine of the car to make it run so much more smoothly.
Aside from the satisfaction of dealing on my own with the withdrawal symptoms, once the Celexa had clearly left my body (Invasion of the Body Snatchers is another apt metaphor) the anxiety I had experienced for years had also disappeared. And although it certainly rears it’s head and thrashes it’s tail around my chest every once in awhile, it’s no where near as constant as it used to be. And when it comes, I can see it for what it is. Because I just don’t need it anymore. In this new, much stronger pot.